Brother Vellies was founded by Aurora James with the goal of introducing the rest of the world to her favorite traditional African footwear, while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs within Africa.
Handmade in South Africa, Kenya and Morocco, Brother Vellies creates boots, shoes and sandals in styles that maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts.
I was born in Canada, just outside of Toronto. My Father was born and raised in Ghana. I spent many of my formative years in Jamaica.
What does Brother Veilles mean?
I was really drawn to the idea of the connection people have through their traditional shoes in Africa. You can look at certain styles and know they are from Morocco or Kenya, for example. They are very different but interconnected. ‘Vellies’ is a slang term in South Africa for the first shoe shape I started working with, the veldskoen.
Why did you decide the create your shoes in Africa?
There is such an overwhelming amount of talent on that continent. I wanted to preserve a lot of the traditional cultural skill sets people had developed and find creative ways to integrate those things into my designs. From carving bone in Kenya to weaving fabric in Burkina Fasso. At a point it seemed crazy to me that fashion took so much influence from a continent but never stopped to give anything back. I wanted to honor some of the beauty there by empowering the local artisans to become more directly involved in the fashion conversation.
What is best business advice you have received?
Creating business is a marathon not a sprint. Make choices you will be proud of in the long run. Don’t change your plans or waiver on your goals for your business because something might be easier for a time. See things through.
How would you describe your style?
I try not to take myself too seriously. I think fashion should be fun. A touch of whimsy never hurt anyone.
What is your skincare and beauty regime? (fave products?)
I use coconut oil pretty religiously. I’ve also started using monk oil on my skin and in the bath. I think plenty of moisturizer and lots of water is the best recipe for success.
Your fave shoe from your Spring 2016?
I really love our Burkina Sandals. The fabric is woven by women in Burkina Fasso, who I am working with through the United Nations’ Ethical Fashion Initiative. There is a lot of turmoil happening in that Country right now and its critical for me to have a partner who can ensure these women will still be able to continue earning a living by weaving during this time.
You’ve expanded into bags for Spring 2016…did it have its unique challenges?
Bags are definitely a challenge, it’s a whole new arena. I wanted to source all of the materials for the bags local to the workshop in South Africa. We used a lot of water buffalo carved horn and Springbok which I love. Instead of having our logo front and center on the bag I decided to write ‘Handmade in South Africa’. My brand is really about the story more than the label.
Which shoe designer you admire most and why?
Good question. I learned everything I know about shoes from the people I met on the ground in Africa. I am incredibly inspired by them. The ingenuity they have shown in their work is truly incredible. They repurpose things and create beauty in ways that a lot of high fashion footwear designers would never even dream of.
Congrats for your inclusion in the CFDA/Vogue fashion fund…what does this mean for your business?
Being included in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund is a tremendous honor. I still pinch myself everyday. Its incredible to know that I was able to take this crazy idea and bring it to fruition and have it be recognized by Vogue and the CFDA. The platform they have provided is really unparalleled, it’s a fast track to help get my brand out there and will hopefully accelerate our ability to create more jobs and give deserving people more work. There are hundreds of designers that apply and by Vogue choosing us it helps underscore the importance of fashion that can empower people.
What is your advice for aspiring designers or/and business entrepreneurs?
Do your research and set clear goals. Product should always be the most important part. Passion is contagious, but make sure that the product is always as good as it can possibly be. We are all a work in progress.
Burkina Sandal and Springbok Bag